Both books have that very English attention to large emotions trapped in small situations, like Barbara Pym or Orwell in the Clergyman’s Daughter and Keep the Aspidistra Flying or Stella Gibbons in the books that aren’t funny; a badly cooked cutlet or an unwelcoming reception of your donation to the jumble or your unworthy wish not to take the communion cup after someone with wet lips or the subtle cruelties of bringing someone ‘down to earth’ ‘for their own good’ are at the time, everything there is in the world. The larger situations - breaking relationships, suicide and deception - are behind the smaller situations, pulling them out of shape but they’re not addressed. It’s emotion denied, turned in, constrained as a weapon or hoarded as a defence, parcelled out in fear or ground down by dreariness, but suddenly flashing out as a gleam of gold – turning the tables or just seeing for the first time what’s on them . A turning in of energies instead of out, as the Goot Doctor tells Judith Starkadder (one reason Cold Comfort Farm is so biting is that it takes this convention and shreds it completely). Both books have fairy-tale elements; quests, treasure hunts, the frog discovered to be a prince, the unexpected legacy. Those give a sense of lightness and wonder to a story that could be dark or grim, but it’s the opening to emotion and possibility and the eventual truths and lettings go that make the transformations.
In Cold Domain has more bite, more sex and more wheelchairs; Miss Garnett’s Angel has more Venice. They both have a lightening sense of seeing, and moving beyond, human frailty .